The ancient Egyptians encountered magical bricks on the way into life and on the way out.

On the way in, these were four bricks, stacked in pairs, that served to elevate a birthing mother so that when her child emerged beneath her, the baby could easily be caught in the hands of the midwife. (According to midwives even today, a squatting or sitting posture is preferable to the supine position in which most modern Western women give birth, generally resulting in a faster, easier delivery.)

On the way out, these were the four talismanic bricks that were placed in niches in the four quarters of a royal burial chamber. These bricks were decorated with amuletic figures: in the east, the Anubis jackel; in the south, a flame; in the west, the djed pillar of Osiris; and in the north, a mummiform male figure. All of them protected the deceased.

Doubtless, the…

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